VANDALISM — it frustrates the professional and paraprofessional staff, housekeeping, and most of all, the residents who do not do it but who have to put up with it, sometimes paying out of pocket for it. Vandalism is a nuisance in residence hall communities, leaving an unpleasant environment to live in. Realizing the need to plan for excessive maintenance of the residence halls, vandalism has led some institutions to tack on additional fees to housing costs beforehand. Other institutions charge residents for vandalism at the end of the academic semester. Resident Assistants (RAs) are often the first person in the line of action when it comes to combating vandalism and minimizing it. There are several simple things as a RA you can do on a regular basis to minimize vandalism before it has the chance to have a negative effect on your community. You must realize that the likelihood of vandalism occurring is great, and you should have a plan in place before it starts.
Build a Positive Rapport with Each Resident Individually
The first thing you can do from day one is to build a positive rapport with each resident and get to know them on an individual level. In doing this, you will gain a better understanding of what makes each resident tick. You will learn to know who your “late owls” are; those residents who may be a much needed set of eyes for things that mysteriously happen in the middle of the night. You will also get to know who your “early birds” are; those who are first to run into the housekeeping staff in the morning who are already assessing and cleaning up vandalism. Building a trusting relationship with individuals is a great preventative action in combating vandalism. There is a better chance of being kept well informed if residents feel they can trust their RAs and talk to them on an individual level. Building a positive rapport also includes acting as a role model and someone that the residents respect.
Get to Know the Problem Residents
As a RA you often gain a sense of who the problem residents are fairly quickly. Some problem residents are known from the previous academic year. New problem residents can be identified easily if they are hanging out with the previous group of problem residents, although this may not always be true. Something you can do as a RA is to simply stop and converse with these individuals. Ask them how they are doing and how their classes are going. This goes along with building a positive rapport with each resident. The best thing you can do with these individuals is to show them respect and hope for respect in return. Show them you care about them on a personal level. It may shock them when you take time to get to know them on a personal level, finding out where they are from and asking them about their family. Then you can surprise them later by following up, asking them how they did on the economics test you were talking about last week or how their little sister is doing in basketball. Problem residents can truly be turned around with this type of relationship from professional and paraprofessional staff. Sometimes they will turn out to be your best residents once they have gained your trust. They can become residents who come to you when they have a lead on vandalism and other concerns in your community. Problem residents may be turned around when they realize the effects their disrespect and immaturity have on the community.
Discuss Vandalism Each Week at Staff Meetings
Make it a point to talk about concerns in your building at staff meetings each week. Concerns you may know about in the building may not necessarily be something others on your staff are well informed about. It is good to keep the discussions factual and accurate so the staff can work together in preventing and intervening with further vandalism. Discussing vandalism and concerns on a weekly basis gives everyone the chance to touch base with what they should be looking out for during duty each night as they complete rounds of the building.
Recognize the Importance of Accountability & Responsibility
Recognizing the importance of accountability and responsibility in residence hall communities is important for their success in meeting the number one goal of most residents living in them, which is to achieve academic success. RAs and other paraprofessional staff are first in line in stressing to residents the importance of taking on responsibility for the environment they are living in. RAs must stress to their residents the significance of holding one another accountable for their actions. The easiest way to achieve this is through consistency with all of your residents and not overlooking anything; holding friends accountable as well as other residents. Sometimes damages that may be charged to the community as vandalism can be easily cleaned up before a charge is incurred. You can encourage your residents to accept responsibility for and to clean up accidents, pranks, and the fun things they may do before these things are charged as vandalism. In encouraging responsibility and accountability in your community, you are acting as a positive role model for all of your residents.
Get Your Hall Council or RHA Involved
Another thing the residence hall staff can do is to increase the presence of campus leaders in the residence hall community. You can get other campus leaders involved in maintaining a sound residence hall environment. Residence hall council or a similar group is one which you can become active in, voice concerns, and ask for help in increasing the presence of residents who care about their environment. This relationship may decrease vandalism and other problems. Other leaders on campus can have a great impact in the residence hall community when they work with RAs. All campus leaders, not only RAs, have the ability to make a positive impact on the residence hall environment.
Communicate with the Housing Facilities and Housekeeping Staff
Other people on your side are the housing facilities staff and housekeeping staff. As a RA you are a great liaison between these professional staff members and your residents. You can work with your direct residence life supervisor in communicating between these staff members, sharing concerns. Building a relationship with these individuals can help you understand and explain the impact vandalism has on your community structurally. These people can try to keep you well informed of the costs vandalism is having on your community. You can ask them to assist you in posting this information for your residents to see. Keeping your residents informed about the costs and other consequences of vandalism readily allows those responsible for the vandalism to see the price of their actions and it allows others to realize the need for action in taking greater responsibility for what is happening in their community.
Start a Program in Your Residence Hall
Working with other RAs, student leaders, and the professional staff in the residence hall, you can also start a program to recognize and reward communities that do not have vandalism and to alert communities when vandalism occurs. In doing this, you can post community updates. You can work with your residence hall council to put a reward system in place to motivate community responsibility. For more information on this type of program, check out: Reducing Vandalism in Residence Halls.
Vandalism can be problematic in residence hall communities if overlooked and not cared for. However, with proper planning it may not occur at all. As a RA, who is trying to prevent and intervene with vandalism, the best thing you can do is help your residents understand the need for accepting responsibility for the community they are living in. You have to assist them in realizing the impact destructive behavior will have on their community. As a role model for the community, you have to help your residents understand the significance of the community they are living in and that the residence hall is their home while away at college.
Submitted by: Shannon Smigo, Residence Life Coordinator, Pennsylvania State University, Mont Alto